Archive for January, 2010

Michael Yonkers Band “Microminiature Love”

Minnesotan, Michael Yonkers recorded his Microminiature Love album in 1968, using an idiosyncratic approach to capture an assembly of original songs. The results are heavy! He and his group (The Michael Yonkers Band, featuring bassist Tom Wallfred & drummer/brother Jim Yunker) unleashed a new and original sound for these recordings – driven by raw alternate guitar tunings, heavy drums, mucho tape delay, unique vocal stylings & homemade electronics. The production is only part of the picture, however – the songs display original craftsmanship and are fueled by dynamic energies, pushing and pulling to high degrees. This album is built to reveal a true (& slightly dark) world inside; each new moment can draw you in deeper & it never really relents. Remarkably, the entire album was recorded in only one hour at Dove Studios in Minneapolis. Even more remarkable, perhaps, the record was not released for nearly 35 years.

Why this record went unreleased for so long is something of a mystery. Sire Records initially expressed interest in releasing it, but (according to MY, as revealed in Iker Spozio’s interview from the excellent MORNING #2 magazine) they wanted Yonkers to move to New York City and re-record the material with studio musicians, something Yonkers wasn’t ready to do. Local label Candyfloss Productions (who had recently released the excellent Trip Thru Hell LP by another MN act, C. A. Quintet) also reportedly expressed interest. Further complicating matters, Michael was still in college at the time & legally unable to sign his own record contract.

Thanks to Clint Simonson & Di Stijl records, the LP was finally released in 2002 as it was intended – seven tracks on vinyl. Sub Pop followed up with a CD release in 2003 that included 6 bonus tracks – all of which sound as if they were recorded at the same 1968 studio sessions (though they were home recorded the following year). Sub Pop did an excellent job selecting & mastering these extra tracks to fit the feel of MML.

A powerful record & one-of-a-kind.

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“My House”

😀 CD Reissue | 2003 |Sub Pop | at amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2002 |De Stijl | search ebay ]

VA “The Rock Machine Turns You On”

The historical importance of this unassuming album can’t be overstated. It was the first rock sampler album I ever saw or heard, and almost certainly the first such ever released here in the UK. It was in fact the first time I saw the actual term “rock” used to describe the music at all; previously the successive labels “underground” and “progressive” had been coined to cover the diverging (from “pop”) stream of album-based, art-for-art’s-sake music that had started with Dylan and Hendrix. It was the new music’s first budget release; at a time when the standard price of an album was 32/6 (about £1.63), this cost 14/6 (about 73p), just within the average teenager’s weekly pocket-money allocation. And it would spawn a whole new sub-genre of record releases peculiar to, and essential to, progressive rock: the cult of the sampler.

What came over then, and still impresses today, is the sheer quality of this dip into the CBS catalogue of 1969. Each track can be seen to have been carefully cherrypicked from its parent album, no sample being so leftfield as to frighten off the listener, though nobody venturing further into any of the represented albums would have been disappointed. Yet the overall diversity of the collection is astonishing, both in terms of styles and artists, in a way befitting progressive music. Practitioners of jazz-rock, country-rock, folk-rock, blues-rock, psychedelia and simple honest weirdness are all represented, whilst the acts featured include established big-hitters (Dylan, the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel), contemporary heroes whose days were numbered (the Zombies, Moby Grape, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Tim Rose), newcomers who would fall at the first hurdle (the United States Of America, the Electric Flag, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera) and up-and-coming artists who would go on to found dynasties (Leonard Cohen, Spirit, Blood Sweat & Tears, Roy Harper, Taj Mahal).

Two tracks above all left their mark on me. The Electric Flag’s “Killing Floor” induced me to purchase their album straightaway; this powerful number remains my favourite blues-rock AND jazz-rock performance of all time, with Mike Bloomfield on cloud nine and brass work to die for, the standout track from a solid album. By contrast, despite taking a perverse delight in “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar” I somehow didn’t get round to buying the United States Of America’s sole album until 2008, when a book review of it rearoused my interest. This erotically engaging ditty with its homely brassband coda merely hints at the trippy weirdness of its fellow tracks – one to grow into over forty years, obviously.

A steady stream of samplers followed as prog-rock blossomed, including the best of the lot: CBS’s double from 1970, Fill Your Head With Rock. Samplers were considered disposable, and originals are now quite rare and collectable (sadly, I disposed of all mine many years ago when thinning the collection). Whilst retrospectively compiled anthologies covering the whole life of a label are nowadays commonplace, original samplers with their snapshot of a moment in prog-rock’s history are not. The Rock Machine Turns You On is the only sampler ever to be reissued on CD in its original form – and that sadly minus Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair / Canticle”, probably due to some momentary petulance on Paul Simon’s part. It came out in 1996 and is now a rarity in its own right, never having been re-released. Judging by the clamour on Amazon, Sony could do a lot worse than reissue The Rock Machine Turns You On and Fill Your Head With Rock in their original forms, although licencing problems mean they probably won’t.

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The Electric Flag – Killing Floor

:) 1968 | CBS | search ebay ]

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1.  Help Me by The Kensington Market 1969 (Aardvark – Pacemaker)

2.  I’ll Be The One by Madd, Inc. – 1966 (45 from The Ikon Records Story – Frantic Records)

3.  Shake by The Shadows Of Night – 1968 (45 from The Shadows Of Night– Rev-Ola)

4.  Little Boy Blue by Tonto & The Renegades – 1966 (45 from Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story)

5.  Rich Man’s Fable by H.M.S. Bounty – 1968 (Things – Sundazed)

6.   Pretty Things – Oh by The Blue Things – 1965 (45 from Blow Your Mind)

7.  So Easy She Goes By by David Blue – 1966 (David Blue– Collectors Choice)

8.  On Tour by The Chancellors – 1966 (45 from Back From The Grave Vol. 8)

9.  Back Home by Cuby & The Blizzards – 1966 (45 from Singles A’s & B’s)

10.  You Do Things by The 49th Parallel – 1966 (45 from The 49th Parallel Complete – Pacemaker)

11.  I Want Your Love by The Pretty Things – 1965 (Get The Picture – Snapper)

12.  Eagle’s Son by The Electric Banana – 1967 (Electric Banana Blows Your Mind)

13.  Mazy by The Peep Show – 1968 (45 from Mazy: The Secret World of The Peep Show – Castle)

14.  Professor Black by The Lost & Found – 1968 (45 from Everybody’s Here – Charly)

15.  Frustration by Painted Ship – 1967 (45 from Acid Dreams Testament – Past & Present)

16.  Do Re Me by Mock Duck – 1968 (45 from Test Record – Gear Fab Records)

17.  Mr. Greene by The Palace Guards – 1968 (45 from Complete Recordings – Gear Fab Records)

18.  Farewell Aldebaran by Henske & Yester – 1969 (Farewell Aldebaran)

Timebox “Beggin'”

You could say Timebox got a pretty fair deal out of life when compared to other bands we feature here in these pages.  They had a top 40 hit with the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’,” are represented by two terrific cd reissues and their story has been told countless times by all the serious rock n roll magazines/fanzines (Record Collector, Mojo, Shindig, and Ugly Things).   Timebox’s roots lay in the Take 5, a group who came from Southport, England (near Liverpool) and featured talented drummer/guitarist/vibraphonist Peter (Ollie) Halsall.

The group’s classic lineup didn’t really stabilize until early 1968.  By that time Timebox looked something like this: Mike Patto (lead vocals), Ollie Halsall (guitar, vibes and vocals), Chris Holmes (keyboards), Clive Griffiths (bass), and John Halsey (drums).  Prior to these personnel shifts Timbox had released three 45s in 1967.  Piccadilly issued the first two 45s which were largely instrumental efforts but in the cheerful Swingin’ London style.  The A-side of the first 45, “I’ll Always Love You,” was an excellent pop-soul number, similar in style to the early Action or Small Faces – in other words real mod pop.  In late 67 the group switched over to Deram and released one of the jewels in their crown, a superb cover of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” backed by the soulful acid pop of “Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind.”  Timebox’s version of “Don’t Make Promises” was rather special in that Ollie Halsall played sitar and vibes; the song was dramatically rehauled into something imaginative.  The next single was Timebox’s run at the big time.  “Beggin'” topped out at 38, their highest chart entry by some distance but it was again, a great remake of the Four Seasons classic.

By this time the Patto/Halsall songwriting partnership had began to solidify into something productive.  The group began crafting records that were both experimental but also radio friendly.  Timebox needed a hit 45 for survival.  Their next Deram release was a baroque soul pop number titled “Girl, Don’t Make Me Wait.”  While this track was respectable enough,  it was the brilliant, swirling psychedelia of the B-side that caught my attention most.  “Gone Is The Sad Man” is comparable to a really good track off the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour: dense, tripped out psych rock.  This single stiffed as did Timebox’s next two Deram releases.  The best of these were “Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye/Poor Little Heartbreaker.”  The A-side was another slice of skewed psychedelia that recounts the tale of two dozen martians who are led by Galloping Klaus (a German martian?).  It’s flip side edged comfortably toward classic rock and is a fine slice of metallic angst.

After so many failures Timebox finally broke up around 1969/1970.  Out of the ashes of Timebox came Patto, the great progressive rock outfit formed by Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall.  Timebox is usually remembered as a table setter for Patto, who would release 3 classic progressive LPs in the early 70s.  RPM’s Beggin’ (2008-) collects all Timebox’s 45s (including a rare French release) and much of the Moose On The Loose sessions.  These sessions were recorded in 1968/1969 for what would have been a projected Timebox album.  The group recorded about a dozen tracks at Morgan Studios in Willesden.  Decca heard the results and hated it.  They pulled out, leaving this unheard gem in the vaults for many years.   To my ears Moose On The Loose would have been a fascinating album, close in sound to Traffic’s self-titled 2nd LP.  There’s catchy psych pop (“Promises,” “Tree House,” and “Barnabus Swine”), effective Traffic-like forays into roots rock (“Love The Girl,” “Country Dan and City Lil,” and “Stay There”) and blazing hard rock (“Black Dog”) that point to the future direction Patto and Halsall would take with their progressive outfit.  These recordings highlight Patto’s soulful vocal approach and Ollie Halsall’s wizardry on guitar and vibes .  The Moose On The Loose tracks deliver the goods and prove once and for all that Timebox was one of England’s great lost pop groups.

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“Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind”

😀 CD Anthology | 2008 | RPM | buy at amazon ]

John Stewart “California Bloodlines”

This may be John Stewart’s finest achievement although some fans might argue in favor of the great Willard from 1970.  California Bloodlines was John Stewart’s first true solo disc.  Recorded and released in 1969, Stewart used many of the same musicians as Dylan did for Nashville Skyline.  As expected this disc is much more rustic and country influenced than his work with either Buffy Ford or the Kingston Trio.  Regardless, this is a “must own” for fans of authentic American music.

It took me several spins and a few hours in deep thought to finally come to terms with this classic. John Stewart’s quivering, thin Johnny Cash-like vocals threw me off at first but now I see why many rate California Bloodlines as one of the premier Americana albums.  It’s stacked from top to bottom with great songs and intelligent songwriting.  The opener is one of Stewart’s classics, and while the studio side is excellent in it’s own way,  I prefer the full, live arrangement from October of 69 (Chris Darrow plays fiddle/mandolin on the live version).  Stewart’s songwriting is best heard on gems “Lonesome Picker,” “Missouri Birds,” and “The Pirates of Stone Country Road.”   These cuts are loaded with images of people and places from a bygone era.  He occasionally takes the historical viewpoint a la Robbie Robertson but his songwriting is certainly one of the album’s strengths.  If you’re a fan of Gene Clark or Mickey Newbury I’m sure you’ll be able to appreciate the awesome “Lonesome Picker.”  This track is a spellbinding masterpiece with haunting imagery and lyrics that still cut deep today. My favorite song from the album, “Never Goin’ Back,”  is another standout track that features plenty of buzzing fuzz guitar similar to the Burritos’ classic “Devil In Disguise.”  The rest of California Bloodlines is fleshed out with accomplished country-rockers and pretty country-folk ballads that have great melodies and tight arrangements.

If you can get a hold of an original or the BGO twofer (with Willard) by all means do so!

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“Lonesome Picker”

😀 2fer w/ Willard | 2001 | BGO | at amzn ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1969 | Capitol | at ebay ]

Fleetwood Mac “Then Play On”

At the time of its release an air of mystery pervaded the third studio album proper from Fleetwood Mac. The new, sombre product displayed a seemingly inexplicable change of direction from the preceding high-octane blues-fuelled style. The previously irrepressible Jeremy Spencer is totally absent from the recordings apart from one or two alleged (and inaudible) background piano noodlings, though he appears smiling broadly in the band’s back cover picture. The diminution of Peter Green’s dominance, already clear from the second album, is evinced even further here. Shouldering the new responsibilities is unknown wunderkind guitarist Danny Kirwan, given an unprecedented five (originally seven, but two deleted to allow retrospective inclusion of Green’s double-sided single “Oh Well”) of the individual songwriting credits.

After the rollicking ebullience of the earlier records, the music of Then Play On is often spare and bleak, largely instrumental and, in the case of Green’s compositions, world-wearily sad, both musically and lyrically; the seeds of his later disillusionment, depression and eventual schizophrenia can be clearly heard here. His songs retain a blues flavour, but it’s more oblique, almost incidental. Kirwan’s compositions are more harmonically complex and somewhat more upbeat, but still wistful enough to gracefully complement Green’s songs. What’s most remarkable is the empathy between the two guitarists, who intertwine seamlessly, stylistically and melodically, with just Kirwan’s sharper tone, more pronounced vibrato and generally higher-register playing the difference. Green probably never found a more empathic performance partner, Kirwan a more accommodating mentor. Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is inventive and varied throughout whilst never being overbearing; John McVie’s bass work metronomically understated as ever. For me the highlights are Green’s multifaceted nine-minute masterpiece “Oh Well”, the energetic guitar jam “Searching For Madge” / “Fighting For Madge” which benefits from some fine, mildly lysergic studio editing, Kirwan’s delightful instrumental “My Dream” and Green’s almost unbearably downbeat closer “Before The Beginning”.

Retrospectively this can be seen to be one of the great transitional albums, marking the departure of one of rock’s guitar legends and the start of the first and longest of several turbulent periods for what would become one of rock’s institutions. The absence of the unpredictable Spencer is now thought to be due to a lack of enthusiasm for Green’s downer songs, a theory supported by his making a solo album at the same time . . . to which the other Mac members all contributed. Kirwan’s sudden prominence in the band might have been due at least in part to a romantic attraction on the part of Green, who nicknamed him “young eyes”. And Green’s now universally known psychiatric problems explain his reducing control and ensuing exit. The historical context isn’t necessary to appreciate this haunting, introspective album, but it helps.

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“My Dream”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Reprise | search ebay ]

Tommy James “Christian of the World”

An unlikely classic if you judge by the sleeve, “Christian of the World” is a sweet slab of gospel rock from the one and only Tommy James. Tommy James and the Shondells are an obsession-worthy group, with a slew of memorable hits to their name. I beg you to listen closer next time “Hanky Panky” comes up on oldies radio – it’s one of the nastier garage beats I’ve heard, though it still hit number one, such a killer track. A string of succeeding uptempo hits marred the group with a “bubblegum” label that Tommy hated, urging him to infuse psychedelic sounds into classics like “Crimson and Clover.” His first two solo records continue seamlessly in the marvelous vintage sound of the Shondells.

Apart from Tommy’s brilliant vocals, it’s the production that draws me in on these records. “Adrienne,” the bass is right in your face, with clacky guitars and percussion beefing up the background. This was recorded in 1971 but still has the magic ‘oldies’ sound. Uplifting rhythm and blues grooves like “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Church Street Soul Revival” will appeal on the first listen. The classic driving Shondells beat that made “I Think We’re Alone Now” a hit takes hold on “Sail A Happy Ship.”  But “Dragging The Line” would become Tommy’s biggest solo hit, for obvious reasons.

I’m not bothered by the religious bent. God is one of the main reasons for song. It’s devotion, sorrow, fear, faith, and madness all wrapped up in one topic. Tommy James is the master craftsman of pop. I’m off on a Shondells bender.

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😀 2fer | autographed by Tommy James | ]

Don Covay “The House of Blue Lights”

Released in 1969, The House of Blue Lights was Don Covay’s bold, adventurous attempt to reach the underground audience.  Here Covay is backed by the white-hot Jefferson Lemon Blues Band, credited on the album jacket.  Prior to this LP Don Covay released two of the finest soul/pop albums of the 60’s, Mercy! and See-Saw.

The House of Blue Lights is much different than what came before.  Most of the record is grounded in electrified country-blues; a deep Southern, swampy aura dominates the proceedings.  No soul man of the time tried any blues like this before: raw, anguished and lived-in with lots of twangy guitar solos for good measure.   A few of the numbers, namely the title cut parts 1 & 2, maintain a moody organ-led soul sound that’s highlighted by light sitar flourishes.  These lengthy tracks are clear standouts but other cuts still have the power to stun and amaze.   In the beginning “Mad Dog Blues” hit me like a ton of bricks.  This tune begins with Covay (and band) barking like dogs in heat.  It also features a fantastic flute solo and stinging lead guitar work; play this one LOUD for best results.  “Four Women” is more of the same, Covay’s smooth, soulful vocals complimented by crunching electric guitars and a rocking beat.  Most of the album’s tracks are originals but a few covers are worth mentioning.  Consider the old country-blues standard “Key To The Highway,” Covay manages to breathe new life into this classic warhorse by adding muffled vocals and electric back-porch-blues guitar.

Although blues sounds dominate this set list, The House of Blue Lights is a varied listening experience that’s well paced.  Some tracks are accoustic country-blues (“Steady Roller”)  while others like “Shut Your Mouth” feature greasy blues harp, piano, pounding drum fills and complex song arrangements.   When listening to the great down-and-out “But I Forgive You” I can’t help but think of a young, bluesy Rolling Stones.  Bruce Eder summed it up best in his review of The House of Blue Lights on; “This album is not only a great record on its own terms, but it’s sort of a black parallel/precursor to a few blues-rock LPs by white artists that sold a hell of a lot more copies around the same time. Much of the album sounds like the sonic and spiritual blueprint for Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street and parts of Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.”

If a bit offbeat, The House of Blue Lights is one of Covay’s best albums.  I’ve seen other reviews refer to the LP as “odd” but I think it’s a wonderful, individual recording that’s seldom been equalled in the world of soul music.   The overall vibe of The House of Blue Lights is that of a great artist and tight band, blasting thru a powerful set of swampy blues rock on one of those hot, humid southern nights.   A true American classic.  SepiaTone reissued this album in 2002 but since then it’s been hard to come by.

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“Key To The Highway”

😀 CD Reissue | 2002 | SepiaTone | at amzn ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Atlantic | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Dantalian’s Chariot “Chariot Rising”

Chariot Rising

The sudden arrival of British psychedelia threw up some odd stories, but surely none odder or more notorious than that of Dantalian’s Chariot. Like other established acts – the Beatles, the Stones, Donovan, the Pretty Things, even the homely Hollies – these experienced Beat-era musicians drastically changed tack to embrace the new counterculture, yet no others did it so publicly, nor with such apparent commitment, nor did they fail so spectacularly in spite of critical acclaim and huge hype.

Keyboardist/vocalist George “Zoot” Money had helmed his Big Roll Band since 1961, playing fiery R’n’B to enthusiastic Soho Mod club dancers whilst selling precious few records. Seeing the psychedelic scene suddenly burgeon around them, Money, guitarist Andy Somers and drummer Colin Allen threw themselves bodily on to the bandwagon, announcing abruptly in July 1967 that the Big Roll Band no longer existed and that henceforth they would be Dantalian’s Chariot – Dantalian being a Duke of Hell, referred to in The Key Of Solomon. To emphasise the point they kitted themselves out completely in white – kaftans, guitars, amps, even a white Hammond – and put together a light show so sophisticated that the Pink Floyd hired it on occasions. From their first self-penned recording sessions EMI released a single, “Madman Running Through The Fields”. Despite critical approval it stiffed chartwise, and a subsequent attempt to release an album, appropriately titled Transition, on CBS subsidiary Direction also stalled when the label insisted that its psychedelic elements be diluted with more familiar Money fare and the release credited to the Big Roll Band. This too sank without trace, and a miffed Money finally junked the Chariot in April 1968. Retrospectively, “Madman” became THE essential Brit psych track, much sought after by aficionados as it appeared only rarely on anthologies. The other tracks from the initial sessions attained legendary “lost” status for almost thirty years, until compilers at tiny label Tenth Planet decided to assemble them as the “true” Dantalian’s Chariot album, this finally appearing on vinyl in 1995 with an extended CD release the following year.

After the hype and the wait, the music itself turns out to be rather different from the anticipated unrelenting heavy-psych trip: indeed, it’s an eclectic mix that reminds me more of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s ambiguous psych credentials. The brilliant “Madman” offers scything backwards cymbals, floating flutes and rippling guitar figures as well as suitably lysergic lyrics, but underneath all this is a tautly constructed pop song, not one of your rambling improvs a la “Interstellar Overdrive”. Some songs follow the distinctively British whimsical personal-narrative psych groove: “Fourpenny Bus Ride” and “Four Firemen” could have come from the Kinks or S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things. Others seem purely ersatz psychedelia; the instrumental “This Island” resembles a Morricone spaghetti-western outtake lugubriously decorated with Somers’s electric sitar, and “High Flying Bird” sounds almost like a music industry parody of the San Fran hippie scene, like the Flowerpot Men’s infamously insincere “Let’s Go To San Francisco”. “Sun Came Bursting Through My Cloud” is a winsome acoustic pop song penned, along with two other tracks, by the staff writing team of Tony Colton and Roy Smith. Only the thunderous “World War Three” really approaches “Madman” as a heavy psych tour-de-force. And although the musicianship is excellent throughout, Zoot’s brassy, bluesy vocals simply don’t fit the psych template.

An interesting and enjoyable period piece, then, but not the anticipated Holy Grail of psychedelia, despite its enduring reputation. And what became of the musicians who had thrown themselves so wilfully into the psych stewpot? Money went on to work with Eric Burdon’s LA-based Animals and various third-division British prog acts. Bassist Pat Donaldson fell into folk-rock, helping found Sandy Denny’s short-lived Fotheringay and touring with Richard Thompson. Colin Allen drummed on John Mayall’s Blues From Laurel Canyon and subsequently joined Stone The Crows. And after a brief dalliance with Soft Machine, Andy Somers eventually changed his surname to Summers and became one-third of the Police, no less. Listen to his textural backings on “Madman” and hear unmistakeably the genesis of his unique Police guitar style.

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“Madman Running Through the Fields”

😀 1996 | Wooden Hill | search ebay ]